Justice Evoh Chukwu of a Federal High Court in Abuja has asked Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, Nigerian Bottling Company, along with their respective Managing Directors, Mr. Adeola Adetunji, and Ben Lagantâ€Ž, respectively to appear in court before he could hear their objection to the charges filed against them.
The judge said though the accused persons would not be made to enter the dock, they should appear in court to show respect for the court.
The accused persons had challenged the authority given to a former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN ), to prosecute them for alleged violation of the Consumers Protection Council Act.
They are also challenging the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the separate suits.
They maintained that the charges were premature and the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain them.
The grounds for Coca-Cola’s application read in part, ‘The CPC mala fide procured the Office of the honourable Attorney-General of the Federation to file the criminal charge against applicants without bringing to the attention of the office of the honourable Attorney General of the Federation the fact of the pendency of suit numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/133/2014 – Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited v Consumer Protection Council before the honourable Justice A.R Mohammed.
‘The alleged offences contained in the criminal charge do not emanate from any of the items set out in section 251(1) and (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and no law confers jurisdiction on this honourable court to hear and determine the criminal charge alleging the commission of those offences.’
At the resumed hearing of the case on Monday, the trial judge had asked about the whereabouts of the accused persons,
Counsel for the accused persons Gbolahan Elias (SAN) and â€ŽOluseye Opasanya (SAN) had both argued that the accused persons needed not to be in court since they were challenging Ojo’s authority to prosecute the case and the competence of the charge.
Justice Chukwu, apparently displeased about the absence of the accused persons, said, though the accused persons would not be immediately arraigned because of their pending preliminary objections, he insisted that his order should be respected with their physical presence in the court.
Ojo had told the judge that the criminal trial could not commence without â€Žthe presence of the accused persons.
He also reminded the court that the order to paste the charges on the front wall of the accused’s offices had been complied with.
The court adjourned till December 18 for ruling on whether the fiat given to Ojo to prosecute the case was valid.
He also adjourned till Wednesday to hear Elias’ objections to the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the trial.